Home Review of Carol Howard Merritt's "Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation"

Review of Carol Howard Merritt's "Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation"

Reframing HopeReframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation
by Carol Howard Merritt

Anyone familiar with photography understands the critical importance of framing an image properly. Conscientious shutterbugs spend hours with their raw pictures, inspired by the knowledge that one slight adjustment of angle can give new meaning to what had formerly been a pedestrian photo. In Reframing Hope, Carol Howard Merritt does in ministry what photographers do to photos.

Merritt embarks on a journey toward the reclamation of hope in a world filled with disillusionment and despair. In her estimation, hope needs to move from obscurity to primetime. She believes Christians have long exalted the virtues of love and faith while abandoning the middle child of the Apostle Paul’s trio of virtues: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

For Merritt, reframing hope is personal for her, and she hopes it is for us. Merritt expresses her raw lament about experiencing a wounded Christianity. The brand of Christianity etched into her memory is full of sex scandals and polemical politics. This experience with Christianity represents that of many youth and young adults who have serious doubts about the faith that their parents follow with unquestioned loyalty.

For disillusioned young people and frustrated modern-era Christians, Reframed Hope can be the bellwether that explains our present discouragement and suggests today’s frustrations are preparation for heartening things ahead.

As you read this book, bear two things in mind about the author. First, Merritt writes in short, emotive bursts -- a style in keeping with an active blogger. The content often darts across the page in the fast-moving, subject-jumping fashion so prevalent in cyberspace. With that in mind, expect to find the reframing of topics such as authority, the medium and the message, activism, Creation, and spirituality each containing a tacit invitation to join her musings.

Second, we need to understand that Merritt is a"loyal radical." Translated, this means she is a postmodern pastor who expresses a both-and position, grounded in the best of the church’s past tradition, yet acutely aware of ways contemporary culture moves into the future.

The point of the book is that if we engage faithfully in the act of reframing how and why we do ministry, congregations will likely become inspired to explore new avenues of demonstrating the reign of God. One area in which Merritt highly encourages exploration is technology.

For technophobes and technology neophytes, Reframing Hope serves as a helpful primer ushering the uninitiated through a survey of the virtues of communicating via Internet resources: Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. With the advent of online social media, Christians have the opportunity to engage in social justice, provide congregational care, network, or promote spiritual development. Technology, she intones, can be harnessed to do ministry in community rather than through private acts designed for pietistic individualism.

Merritt offers several recurring themes worth noting. First, the postmodern generation thinks communally, is weary of the practice of individualistic Christianity, and wants to network. Second, this generation is technologically savvy and creates community in cyberspace. Third, because of technology’s reach, this generation is more aware of injustices worldwide and uses technology as a tool for activism.

The question for contemporary churches to grapple with is how to move from traditional notions of ministry operations (meeting physically and church activities being tied to the building) to contemporary methods (blogging and social networking). Merritt urges churches to update the traditional types of media congregations use in order to connect with, visit, and reach out to people in the ways people communicate today.

Merritt hits her stride near the end of the book when she speaks about things the older generation can do to engage postmoderns: mentor, share power, listen and avoid the "we’ve already tried that" position.

The book’s greatest contribution is the constant invitation to update church methodology and praxis while remaining rooted in the best of church tradition.

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Kwasi Kena, the former Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries, is now an Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry at the Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Indiana.